It was a cool August morning when the 7 of us set out on an adventure, a pilgrimage of sorts. We were headed to the community where Arlynne had spent her last week of life. To the place where she had died. We were on our way to Longlac.
I don’t travel well. I don’t like leaving my comfortable home where I know where everything is. I don’t like packing. Especially for so many people. I get overwhelmed by the thought of forgetting something important. I guess I am just a “bloom where you’re planted” kinda girl.
This trip was even more stressful. We had survived burying our daughter. We had done the funeral, the immediate arrangements. But we were still in shock. I still wasn’t sleeping. Or eating. We all had a long way to go.
We set out very early Monday morning. The truck was weighed down with all that seemed necessary for 10 days away and then some. It was full. The sun was rising as we approached Toronto. Josiah had had a couple of glasses of lemonade from the fridge at home before we had left and it had upset his stomach. He was vomitting in the back seat. Eden was distraught. She didn’t feel good. She had had a stomachache since we got the news that Arlynne had died. Going away was making it worse. She was crying.
All of a sudden the locks in the truck started locking and unlocking. It was the strangest thing. In fact, it scared me. And everyone else in the truck. Here we were headed 17 hours north and our truck seemed to be having electrical problems. This was not a good way to start.
We hadn’t eaten before we left home. It was far too early and we had hoped that the twins would sleep at least for a little while just so the trip wouldn’t seem so long. Our plan was to stop at the McDonald’s service centre in Barrie. In the middle of the vomitting, the crying and the locks locking and unlocking, we assured them that we were stopping at their favourite restaurant for breakfast.
Until we realized that the McDonald’s we had stopped at many times before was closed for renovations. We needed another plan. We needed to find another McDonald’s. A few panicked minutes later and with the help of a Google map or two, we found a McDonald’s. In downtown Barrie.
I don’t really recall what time it was. It was early. And this was not a typical family-friendly McDonald’s. There was no kids play area. What I recall most is the clientele. It was mostly male. And maybe a little scary. This was the kind of McDonald’s were the staff had to buzz you into the restrooms. The restaurant felt like a giant fishbowl with too many windows and no corner to hide in.
I think we gave them quite a show. Here was a huge family in various levels of distress emerging from an overstuffed vehicle early on a Monday morning. We pushed everyone in, some kicking and screaming. As we organized ourselves, figured out what to order, we were being watched. I started to feel like we were the morning entertainment. One of us ordered far more food than we could have possibly eaten on the best day while the other two supervisors took turns being buzzed into the restrooms with the kids. It was not a pretty sight.
We were finally seated, food in hand. Eden was still crying and she and Josiah both refused to eat. Nathan was expecting a Happy Meal and this just wasn’t cutting it. Pete and I were too distraught to think of eating. We ended up throwing almost everything away untouched. It was time to go. McDonald’s felt like an epic fail.
Pete and Karissa took the kids back out to load them into the truck. I stayed back. I asked a woman employee who I had seen observing our spectacle if they would have any plastic bags. I explained that our son had been sick and we needed some more, just in case. I don’t really know what else I said. I know I said that we were on our way up north to where our daughter had died. I felt I needed to somehow explain this motley crew who had come for an early morning visit. This wonderful woman equipped me with anything and everything she could find to help us on our way. Then we left.
I didn’t really think about our early morning trip to McDonald’s again. The trip was filled with long hours of travelling. More vomitting. Trips to a couple of hospital ERs. Meeting people who had been with Arlynne. Speaking opportunities. Changed plans. Lots of tears. A number of surprises. New friends made. Stories. Blessings. Miracles. I will never forget it. I also hope I never have to make a trip for the same reason again.
The Thursday before Thanksgiving the phone rang. It was a pastor from the church we had been attending when Arlynne died. He asked me if I could come to the church and pick up a package. It was addressed to the church but it also had my name on it. I told him that I would be there that afternoon. I had no idea what it was about.
I arrived at the church a little while later and told the secretary who I was and that there was a package there for me. She gave it to me but told me that I had to be open it there since the church’s name was on it. I didn’t recognized the name on the return address. But it was from Barrie.
I opened the envelope and out slid a number of items. A black jewellery box. A few smaller envelopes. A few Focus on the Family “Adventure in Odyssey” CDs. The smaller envelope that was addressed to me inside clarified the situation. It was from the woman in the McDonald’s. The woman who had watched us. Who had helped us. She had found us. She had found me.
Normally, I am not a wailer. I prefer to cry quietly. These were strange times though and I often found myself doing things that made me wonder who I had been replaced with. I sank to the floor and wailed as I recalled the scene in that McDonald’s and all the emotion of that early morning on our way to Longlac. I am embarrassed to admit it. In fact, it brought a flurry of activity as some of the staff in nearby offices came out to investigate this disruption and quickly decided to fetch the man who had called me in the first place. Clearly I must have been having some sort of breakdown.
This woman, this person that God had put in our path that morning, had gone home and found us from the brief details I had given her. She had seen the pain that Eden was going through and sent her a necklace. She had identified the fact that I would need help in my journey through grief and she sent me some booklets. She saw the kids and knew they would love to hear some stories, maybe not on the trip when our lives intercepted but some time later. I like to think that God gave her a job to do and she did it. She did it beautifully. And I pray that she was blessed because of it.
It is just as important for me to be a blessing though too. I believe that God gives all of us jobs to do. Ways to reveal Him to someone else. Someone who needs Him. It is just up to me to be obedient. I may never know how a kind word, a smile or a small token will touch someone. God allows us to intercept other peoples lives for a reason. For His glory. The woman from McDonald’s could have left work that day without giving us another thought. But she didn’t. She sacrificed her time and her resources so that she could reveal our Loving Heavenly Father to us. To me. And she did.
I don’t know if she realizes how much she blessed me during a difficult time. All I can do is remember and do the same for someone else.